Is Electronic Arts the Real World Cup Winner?

Sales of its FIFA series have grown in North America as the American men's team has done better in the global competition.

Daniel B. Kline
Daniel B. Kline
Jul 5, 2014 at 8:07AM
The Business

The media has endlessly debated how the strong run by the U.S. team at the 2014 World Cup might impact the future of soccer in the United States. 

But there has already been one clear winner of the increased focus on soccer here in the U.S. -- Electronic Arts  (NASDAQ:EA), which makes the FIFA series of soccer video games.

How important is FIFA to EA?
In its most recent earnings call, EA's CEO Andrew Wilson said he expects the company to bring in just more than $4 billion in revenue in 2014. 

FIFA is EA Sport's best-selling title, accounting for $1 billion annually -- nearly 25% of the company's total revenue, USA Today reported.

Wilson was excited about how the World Cup would help the game. "Global excitement for this summer's World Cup is heating up, and we have just launched FIFA World Cup 14," he said. "We have included all 203 FIFA-sanctioned national teams, as well as 21 stadiums and 11 game modes in the most immersive version of our tournament game, ever."

FIFA 14 has been a stronger seller globally than it has in the United States. Those numbers do not reflect the copies of the game that have sold since the World Cup began. 

The sales totals for the current title may be smaller in the U.S. than they are globally, but over the last few years, FIFA, which is updated annually, has sold a lot of games in the States and likely created a lot of American soccer fans. Across the four gaming console platforms, FIFA 14 had already sold nearly 2 million copies before the Cup began, according to VGChartz.  

ConsoleUnits Sold
Xbox 360 780,000
PlayStation 3 630,000
Xbox One  290
PlayStation 4 410,000
Total: 1,820,290

In addition to those 1.8 million copies the 2013 edition of the game sold over 1 million copies for Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Xbox 360 and another million on Sony's (NYSE:SNE) PlayStation 4. That's millions of Americans (and their friends) not only learning the rules of soccer from the videogame but millions of people exposed to the international game in advance of the World Cup. 

As of July 2, FIFA 14 was ranked by Amazon as the No. 18 best-selling Xbox 360 title, the No. 5 PlayStation 3 game, the No. 8 Xbox One title, and the No. 4 best-seller for PS4 -- despite the game having been out since November.

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EA should thank FIFA, and FIFA should thank EA
Although the FIFA game has been around for almost 10 years, its popularity -- especially in the United States -- began to rise dramatically during the 2010 World Cup, where the American men managed to reach the knockout round, losing in the first game.

"We saw a huge influx of fans coming in from World Cup product," EA's Nick Channon, told USA Today.

Once the players are hooked, Channon said, many FIFA gamers start watching the English Premier League's weekly matches to keep up with their favorite footballers.

This has led to younger Americans not only understanding the rules of the game but appreciating its subtlety. That has made the World Cup more appealing beyond simply rooting for the American team.

Some 14% of people between the ages of 12 and 24 said professional soccer was their favorite sport, second only to the NFL, sports researcher Rich Luker told The New York Times

So, the World Cup brought EA its initial North American audience for FIFA, and the game company repaid the favor by creating a new generation of well-informed young American soccer fans. FIFA, of course, also gets a cut of the proceeds from sales of the game, so the soccer federation is a double winner here.

This is really good for EA
Games are fast becoming like movies, where the amount of money spent on a top-tier release is so high that franchises and sequels that bring predictable returns are incredibly valued. With its global popularity, FIFA has become as close to a sure thing for EA each year as possible.

The 2014 World Cup should take the game to greater heights, which should make the 2018 World Cup an even bigger deal in the United States. With the video game serving as an ambassador and teaching tool for the sport, it's possible that the game could be a catalyst to making soccer a major sport in America.